Monday, July 19th, 2010 • 9 Comments on The Best Part of Being an Editor
I’ve started reading submissions for Dream Lover. I know some editors read submissions as they come in, which probably would seem less overwhelming than the huge stack in front of me. (I know, I know. They’re all files on a computer and not actual manuscripts in a pile, but I’m trying to paint a visual for you here.) Still, there is something exciting about waiting until the deadline closes before beginning to read stories. Oh, the anticipation! What gems will I discover in all of these lovely submissions? What favorite authors will delight me? Will I discover a new writer or two (or three)? How will all of these storytellers interpret paranormal erotic romance?
Oh, oh, oh!
My selection process is a bit convoluted. Or maybe it’s not? I really don’t know what the selection process is like for other editors. I read everything once and push it into one of three categories: Yes, Maybe, or No. The Yes and No piles are the smallest, at least initially. If I absolutely love, love, love something on the first read, of course I’m going to want to buy it right now. I’m only about a quarter of the way through the first reading and I’ve already had to resist the urge to e-mail two authors to tell them I’m buying their stories. Patience, dear Kristina.
At this stage, the No pile contains only the stories that have completely missed the mark. For a story to get a resounding No on a first reading means the author ignored the guidelines entirely or sent me something that is missing one of the three key ingredients for this anthology: paranormal, erotic and romantic. Having two of the three will not cut it, unless it’s clear the author can flesh out the third element. No stories are often recycled stories that were intended for other anthologies and were never “freshened” up to fit a new set of guidelines. No stories are also the ones that are incorrectly formatted, lacking in correct grammar and punctuation or are generally the kind of mess that you’ve heard editors joke about. I’m happy to say that I haven’t yet come across one of those in this batch of submissions, but I do have a couple of No stories that are missing either the erotic or the romantic aspect of this anthology.
Finally, the Maybe pile is every other story—the good, well-written stories that I like and might very well buy, but I have to read everything first to see which I will choose. For instance, i already have three vampire stories in the Maybe pile and I know I will only include, at most, two vamps. I’m fairly certain there are even more bloodsuckers lurking in the unread pile, so I have to wait and see which will be my favorites. (This is not to say that I won’t run across a vampire that’s an automatic Yes—it can and will likely happen.) The Maybe pile also includes stories that might need a little tweaking—an additional scene for character development; a few hundred words cut from a story that has gone over the maximum word count; a plot twist added to give the story that extra umph to take it from good to great. Most stories are Maybe stories.
Once I’ve made the initial read of all the stories, I tackle the Maybe pile again, keeping in mind the stories I’ve selected already and the balance of the anthology. The second read is ruthless. I’m looking for stories that require a minimum of editing and complement the stories I’ve already chosen. I will shed a few tears when I cut some of the Maybe stories from the second reading. Okay, not really. But I will feel some regret to have to reject some very good stories. When I’m done with the second read, the Yes pile will be a little bigger, the No pile will be a lot bigger and there will still be stories in the Maybe pile. These will be the stories that, for whatever reason, make me hesitate before I reject them. They might have flaws, they might not be my cup of tea, they might be a little too “out there” or they might even be too similar to something else I’ve already filed in the Yes pile. But yet I won’t be able to say no to them. Not yet.
The third read is to answer one question: what’s missing? Here is where I’m willing to forgive the flaws, overlook the typos, see past the awkward dialogue to the diamond in the rough that is a good fit for the anthology. These are the stories I will buy because the authors have written something so unique I can’t forget about them.
You’d think I would be done after three readings, right? But no, then there’s a fourth, fifth and even sixth reading. I read all of the Yes stories in the fourth reading, making sure I have enough stories to fill the book and that I’m in love with each and every story—and making sure I haven’t gone over my allotted page count, because that would mean having to cut a Yes story, which I don’t want to do. The fifth reading is to edit and put the stories in their proper order (which I will be attempting to do as I move through the third and fourth readings) and the sixth reading is the one where I put the book away for a few days, then read it with fresh eyes from beginning to end in one sitting to see if I’ve missed anything. That could be anything from having too many characters named Sarah or too many stories set in Maine or three stories in a row that are about shapeshifters or… whatever. It’s the tweaking reading, making sure everything is perfect before I send it off to the publisher.
Then, of course, there are the copyediting and proofreading reads. But those are easy by comparison because the book is finished and now it’s just a matter of fine tuning perfection. (I’m biased, what can I say?)
And that’s how I go about putting together an anthology. Aren’t you glad you didn’t ask?
I love my job. I truly do.